Trafalgar Square – history in the heart of London

Named after the Battle of Trafalgar – a British naval victory of the Napoleonic Wars -Trafalgar Square is undoubtedly one of the most iconic and history-rich places in London. Originally the northern area of the square was the site of the King’s Mews and had been since the time of Edward I, while the southern end was the original Charing Cross, where Whitehall met the Strand from the City. When George IV, the Prince Regent, decided to move the King’s Mews to Buckingham Palace in the 1820s, the original site was demolished and commissioned for redevelopment. By 1845 the present architecture was completed.

The square itself consists of a large central area surrounded by roadways on three sides, and stairs leading to the National Gallery on the other. Nelson’s Column stands in the centre of the square, surrounded by four bronze lions said to have been made with recycled metals from the cannons of the French fleet and fountains added in 1939. The column is topped by a statue of Lord Nelson, the admiral who commanded the British Fleet at Trafalgar.

At the corners of the square are four plinths. Three of them hold statues of George IV, Henry Havelock, and Sir Charles James Napier. The fourth plinth on the northwest corner was intended to hold a statue of William IV, but remained empty due to insufficient funds. Later, agreement could not be reached over which military hero or monarch to place there. Since 1999 it has featured temporary exhibitions of art by contemporary artists.

The square used to be particularly famous for its pigeons. However, the desirability of the birds’ presence was a matter of contention, due to their droppings tarnishing the beauty of the buildings and the flock of birds, estimated to be around 35,000 at its peak, were considered to be a health hazard. Therefore, the sale of bird seeds in the square was prohibited in 2000, and as of last month, bye-laws were secured sealing an outright ban on feeding birds in the square. The presence of pigeons is thus severely diminished.

Since its construction, Trafalgar Square has been a venue for political demonstrations. It was host to both the Black Monday and Bloody Sunday political rallies of 1886 and 1887, respectively. In modern times it has held significant political demonstrations against war and nuclear weapons, apartheid and the poll tax. A large vigil held was held at the square shortly after the terrorist bombings in London in July 2005.

Trafalgar Square is easily accessible from the Charing Cross, Embankment, Piccadilly Circus or Leicester Square tube stations, while the landmark is also extensively serviced by the London bus network. In addition there are several hotels in London near the square itself. Either way, no trip to London would be complete without visiting Trafalgar Square.